Yooka-Laylee, the Kickstarter darling from Playtonic Games, has already gained an impressive following for its ambitions to revive the 3D platforming genre of the N64 days. It’s also aiming to resurrect the old video game tradition of having two heroes share the spotlight. This got me thinking of some of the other great video game duos over the years, so I decided to compile a list of the top 10 twosomes in gaming.
The only real qualification for this list was that the two characters have to share in their adventures together. They can be two equal heroes or a hero/sidekick combo, but they have to both brave their adventures on a somewhat even level. Solid Snake and Otacon won’t be here, for example, because while Otacon may help Snake in some valuable ways, it’s usually from the sidelines.
Also, as much as I already love them, Yooka and Laylee won’t be here for the obvious reason that their game isn’t anywhere near release. Only established games for now.
Let’s get to it then.
These two adorable “bubble dragons” starred in the popular Bubble Bobble series and its subsequent spinoff series, Bust-a-Move. They may not be too prominent today, but they’re just so cute.
There’s no video game duo that screams “80s” quite like Bill Rizer and Lance Bean. From their ridiculous names to their suspiciously Rambo-esque appearance, the Contra dudes represent co-op and the 80s like nobody’s business.
Billy Lee and Jimmy Lee (Double Dragon)
Billy and Jimmy Lee have had an interesting history, to say the least. Originally known as Hammer and Spike in America, the duo helped popularize the beat ’em up genre in the late 80s. They also starred in one of the earliest movie adaptations of a video game (but let’s not speak any more of that). So maybe there have been a few bumps in Billy and Jimmy’s careers, but no doubt they’re a trailblazing duo.
Master Chief & Cortana (Halo)
I was very tempted to put Master Chief and Cortana on the actual list, but couldn’t decide whether or not Cortana’s role as an AI guiding Master Chief through his journeys fell into the Snake/Otacon scenario or a traditional duo. So they get a runners-up spot due to indecisiveness. But no doubt they’re one of the coolest pairings around. One is a super intelligent AI who presents herself in the form of a strangely attractive hologram, and the other one is a dude with a gun. Perfect match.
Now for the top 10!
10: Ryu & Ken (Street Fighter)
Ryu and Ken aren’t necessarily a traditional video game duo, since they are more like rivals trying to one up and learn from each other through battle. Still, they are probably the most iconic ‘frienemies’ in all of gaming. They look and dress similar, share the same fighting style, and are the two most prominently featured characters in all of fighting games. If they were a little more cohesive of a tandem, they’d be ranked even higher.
9: Jak & Daxter (Jak & Daxter)
Jak & Daxter aren’t exactly on equal footing, what with Daxter being the one with personality and Jak being, well, the playable character. But they are a formidable team nonetheless. The second game in the Jak & Daxter series dropped the “& Daxter” from the title – to the chagrin of many – but Daxter was still the real reason anyone cared about these two. Sure, Jak 2 tried to give Jak a personality, but he just ended up being an unlikable jerk, really.
So they may not be the best twosome around, but no doubt the series benefitted for slapping a sidekick on its hero’s shoulders.
8: Ratchet & Clank (Ratchet & Clank)
Ratchet and Clank debuted shortly after Jak and Daxter (leading to countless comparisons between the two tandems), but Ratchet and Clank are better treated as an equal hero and sidekick duo, giving them some brownie points here. Plus, the Ratchet and Clank series is still going strong, while Jak and Daxter has fallen off the radar as of late. Additional points for longevity.
Ratchet and Clank continue to appear in sequels to this day, bringing a lighthearted touch to Sony’s increasingly “edgy” Playstation brand.
7: Ico and Yorda (Ico)
Okay, so maybe the resumes of Ico and Yorda aren’t as prolific as some of the duos I’ve already mentioned, but they are the only team on this list who can create so much beauty from doing so little.
Ico and Yorda’s relationship is simple, subtle, and sweet. The boy (Ico) rescues the girl (Yorda) from the clutches of an evil queen, who wishes to steal Yorda’s youth. Ico must escort Yorda through the queen’s castle, fending off shadowy beasts, oftentimes with little more than a stick. Ico does most of the heavy lifting (being the playable character and whatnot), but Yorda helps shape and unlock new areas of the castle, so she still provides her end of the bargain.
But mostly, the two make it this high on the list because of the beauty of their experience. The simple concept of holding hands is a key mechanic in the game, and it provides a far more heartfelt connection between characters than most video game romances.
6: Joel and Ellie (The Last of Us)
To say Joel and Ellie have the most character development of any duo on this list is an understatement. Their relationship is regarded as one of the best in video games. One is a man jaded from the loss of his daughter, the other is a young girl suffering from losses of her own. Together they not only fight to survive a zombie apocalypse, they also become something of a surrogate family.
Watching the stories of Joel and Ellie unfold is a thing of beauty, but what makes it all even better is that both members of this team are more than capable individuals. Ellie ends up saving Joel from life and death situations just as often as he saves her. Joel and Ellie are one of gaming’s great duos in both narrative and gameplay.
5: Sonic & Tails (Sonic the Hedgehog)
Although Sonic & Knuckles were the duo that had an entire game named after them, we all know Sonic and Tails are the series’ best hero/sidekick dynamic.
Okay, so Tails does have the dubious distinction of opening the door for the countless goofy animals that have since flooded the Sonic the Hedgehog series. But the fact remains that Tails himself perfectly complimented the blue blur.
Sonic was fast, but Tails could fly! Tails added an extra layer of fun to the table, and is a large reason why Sonics 2 and 3 are still so beloved. Plus, the two character setup later became a common element in platformers. So bonus points for influence.
The Sonic series may have fallen from grace over the years, but the original team of Sonic and Tails is still way past cool!
4: Toejam & Earl (Toejam & Earl)
When you have a pair of aliens from a planet called Funkotron who go by the names Toejam and Earl you know you have something special.
Toejam is the red one with the googly-eyes and the chain, and Earl is the big one with a passing resemblance to Patrick Star. Together they throw tomatoes at possessed mail boxes, get jetpacks from Santa Clause, and dance with hula girls.
These cool dudes brought a fun and unique co-op experience with their first game, and although the sequels weren’t as beloved, the titular duo were still just as entertaining. Kickstarter has ensured that Toejam and Earl will be making a comeback. Let’s hope they can parody 2010s culture as well as they did the 80s and 90s.
3: Banjo & Kazooie (Banjo-Kazooie)
The duo who inspired the duo who inspired this list just had to earn a spot in the top 3!
Banjo and Kazooie are a duo so close, they don’t even go by Banjo and Kazooie, and are usually referred to by their names with a mere hyphen in the middle, as though they are some conjoined entity.
What really made this Banjo-Kazooie one of the great video game duos is how their abilities joined as one. A lot of the characters on this list consist of one playable character and a sidekick, but with Banjo-Kazooie, both characters pulled their weight and provided their own moves.
Banjo did most of the basic actions like walking, swimming, jumping, and the standard attacks. Kazooie, on the other hand, came into play whenever the duo needed to fly, hover, shoot eggs, or trot steep hills.
Plenty of platforming heroes come in twos, but Banjo-Kazooie made the most of it. Is Yooka-Laylee up for the challenge?
2: Donkey Kong & Diddy Kong (Donkey Kong Country)
No other video game duo better represents the big guy/little guy dynamic than Donkey Kong and Diddy. DK is the big, strong hero, and Diddy is the little buddy trying to live up to said hero. Although DK is the star of the franchise, Diddy has made a name for himself in the years since his debut, making it even cooler when these monkeys team up in newer games.
Donkey Kong Country introduced Diddy, who has established himself as DK’s sidekick ever since. The two were originally a tag team, being able to switch who was leading the charge and who was the backup. But now that Diddy has trinkets like peanut popguns and jetpacks, he now is more commonly seen latching onto DK’s back to combine their abilities.
This is one of the few video game duos where the sidekick managed to step out of the main character’s shadow, as Diddy starred in DKC 2 (introducing the equally awesome combo of Diddy Kong and Dixie Kong in the process). This is a team that created a new star.
Whether DK and Diddy are teaming up, acting as one, or off doing their own thing, they’ve created one of gaming’s best duos.
1: Mario & Luigi (Super Mario Bros.)
You may think this is a cliched choice for number one, but sometimes things are cliched for a reason. The simple fact is there isn’t a more iconic, influential or all out fun duo in video games than Mario and Luigi.
Nintendo’s two most beloved characters have starred in hundreds of games, including a number of all-time greats. They’ve revolutionized the platforming genre, battled it out in go kart races and Super Smash Bros., and teamed up for some hilarious RPGs.
But it all comes back to the idea of player 1 and player 2. Mario takes the top billing, while Luigi was always waiting for a second player to join in the fun. It all started over three decades ago, and this is the one duo that has remained in the spotlight through all that time. They’ve never not been relevant ever since day one.
Mario and Luigi have paved the way for gaming, and for video game duos. You can’t but help be hooked on the brothers.